Friday, December 4, 2009

Mission Statement: Make 'em Cry


Now we’re talking. There are few professions that claim “make ‘em cry” as a goal. And I don’t mean nasty bosses in the corporate world either, although I’ve had a few of those. I’m thinking of creative persons like you and I. Actors and writers. Kind, wonderful people who will get a thrill of a job well done and say a heartfelt thank you if a reader says we made them cry.

I’ve come across a couple of sources that offer advice on this lofty goal. Check out:

How to Make Readers Cry in Six Steps

I also found timeless advice in the book “How to Write a Romance and Get it Published” by Kathryn Falk, copyright, 1983, 1984, 1989. (Side note: An oldie but a goodie from the publisher of Romantic Times. I’ve been re-reading this one and finding lots of interest. Some information, granted, is more than a bit dated…did you know, in 1989 “micro computers” are becoming popular. Apparently they will allow you to make mistakes faster than a typewriter. LOL And the internet? What internet? But the crafting articles are excellent. I’ll probably quote from this book for a while.) I found this part interesting.

Moving the Reader to Tears is Quite an Achievement:

  • Pick Your Favorite Tragedy. Death is usually the most common tactic. But grief is also valuable. Other elements that makes a reader reach for the box of Kleenex include: failing relationship with parents, siblings; a companion’s social rejection; an accident leading to disfigurement; mental disease; illness.
  • Decide Upon Who Will Suffer in Order to Change. Cruel as it sounds, suffering will make your reader more sympathetic toward the character. You will then get them to share another person’s pain. Even in real life, this gains incredible sympathy, doesn’t it?
  • Keep the pain going…Don’t make the pain happen too quickly. Pain today, gone tomorrow, will not evoke a tear. Be sure the pain lingers on and on. (It’s easier for your editor to cut scenes than to ask you to pad it.) [<--Not sure if I agree with this. This is assuming you have an editor/agent. Were things different back then? Was it easier to obtain the elusive relationship with an editor? I think timing is to be considered with it being a first novel. Perhaps it’s more up to you to “fix” before submission.]

  • The longer your character suffers, the longer the readers will sympathize. And then the tears will come. BUT ONLY IF YOU WRING IT OUT OF THE READER. So, no quick tragedies!
  • Add the Teary Scene AFTER the Story is Strongly Constructed. Many writers put the “tear jerker” scene in AFTER they write the book. That way, motivation to reach for the Kleenex is clearly motivated; it comes on top of a naturally good story. A teary scene ALONE doth not make a book.
On what makes me cry, I hate to admit it, but a lot more movies come to mind than books. Or the great, tear jerker scenes in books have been made into a movie and that's what I remember. In fiction, I have to think longer, but the floodgates will open. I have cried at near death scenes where all seemed lost (some Kleypas books come to mind) and at a sacrafice in Penelope Williamson's Once in a Blue Moon. I've cried at the pain felt by an abused heroine or the pain felt by either the hero or heroine who believed he/she was unworthy.
I do know that a character crying doesn’t necessarily make me cry. It might make me laugh…and if not intended, that’s not good! I will, however, enjoy well crafted humor (perhaps dark humor) mixed with tragedy. My favorite example (admittedly, it’s been a while since I read the book and I’m going off of the vivid memory of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre) is JANE EYRE. I love this story passionately. Also in “How to Write a Romance,” an essay by Violet Winspear says it much better than I can. She is referring more to the sensual nature of JANE EYRE, but it also, in my opinion, applies to why it is a tear jerker:

JANE EYRE is one of the most passionate of romance novels; it throbs with the sensuality of a woman’s growing love for a man; there is a deep longing of the lonely heart in its every line.

In all the true heroes and heroines of romance, there is a loneliness that speaks for all of us. There is this reaching out for love…for just one person in the world to love with every beat of the heart…

Yes, that will make me cry.

I'd have to add "lonlieness" to my list of elements of a tear jerker, but just doing so emphasizes that it is not a fast process to evoke tears. It is not death itself, but what it means; the grief of losing and being alone.

One thing that I know I’ll try is Add the Teary Scene AFTER the Story is Strongly Constructed. I have several areas in mind that might be padded in revision. I completely agree that I think a strong foundation is needed before adding the Teary Scene.

You too can make the reader cry if you work at it. Take the time to build something worth crying over, then make it better. Sooth the hurts. The HEA might also make the reader cry.

What makes you cry in a romance (movie or fiction)? Is "make 'em cry" one of your goals as a writer?

7 comments:

  1. Ooops, my post didn't show. I love to make my readers cry. And laugh and love.

    The one thing that really makes me cry is when the heroine feels unworthy.

    Excellent blog post. I'll have to come back when I have more time to check out the link.

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  2. Thanks, Renee. You know, I didn't put it in this post (couldn't find the quote again) but what amazes me is that one writer's essay I read said it's easier for her to make the reader cry than it is to laugh. I'd think humor was easier. Not that I'm a comedian and will have the reader rolling on the floor, but humor in small doses I think I can do easier than the tear jerker scenes. I'll have to do a blog on Mission Statement: Make 'em Laugh.

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  3. I think it really depends on the writer. A really good writer friend of mine finds it much easier to write humor, where I don't, although I'm learning to add it in to balance out the darkness.

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  4. I don't set out to make people cry... but sometimes what my character is going through makes me cry. Readers usually comment that the cried at the same place. My stories usually write themselves, and oftentimes I'm surprised myself.

    I really liked this post - nice steps!

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  5. Thanks, Suzette. I'm glad you liked this post. :)

    I'm also surprised myself about what my characters come up with. Those times of surprise are what keeps me writing!

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  6. Every time I read your blogs, I think, "I wish I'd written that."

    My number one goal is to make the reader cry, followed closely by make the reader sigh. I love writing tear jerker scenes, and it would make sense, I love reading them.

    Dorothy Garlock is a master at making me cry. I also bawl a lot reading the black moments in SEP books. SEP's It Had To Be You made me cry for about two hours. But really happy moments, when the characters have been through a lot and come out on top make me cry too.

    As to movies, I can't watch Steel Magnolias or Stepmom without crying. Every. Time. And always at the same parts. Stepmom breaks my heart so much, I actually avoid watching it.

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  7. Terri, both the movies you mention I cried watching too! Why do we torture ourselves? Okay, we know why. I enjoy writing them too, but have a lot to learn. I had a strange feeling writing down the nuts and bolts of how to make a reader cry. Seems kind of cold to write it down like a recipe! But I really think a writer has to analyze what works. I'm glad you liked it!

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